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Comments from UK

(Ed note: Emphasis added)
                                                                                                   25 January 2001

Lynette Burrows:

"The Fight for the Family"

The adults behind children's rights

Chapter 1: The Progress of a Peculiar Ideology

The general public is being seriously misled in the matter of 'children's rights'.

For most people, the idea of rights for children centres on their welfare: the need to protect them from harm and to provide them with the basic necessities of life.  It would never occur to them that this necessary and benign intention is being misused by those who want to change the family from what they see as a bourgeois, paternalistic, oppressive institution to a new, radical activity unit where parents are merely caretakers of children, on sufferance from the state.

Most people would probably agree with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child when it speaks of the family being the 'fundamental group of society' and that children should be afforded the 'necessary protection and assitance' to enable them to grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding. That is indeed what parents in general have always sought for their children and have, in most cases, devoted the major part of their lives to achieving. It is an entirely uncontentious statement - until you see how it can be interpreted.

Consider this statement of intent, issued by an organisation called the Children's Rights Office in June 1995:

Traditionally, there has tended to be a presumption that
parents' rights prevail until children can demonstrate a capacity for exercising their rights.

But the obligation in Article 5 [of the UN Convention] to act 'in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child' suggests that the presumption should be reversed: parents should exercise their rights to over-ride the actions of a child only where the child is not competent to understand fully the consequences of their actions, or where failure to intervene would place the child at risk or would cause harm to, or interfere with, the rights of others.2

The thing to be noted here is the spin being put on the innocent-sounding observation that parents should 'act in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child'. Most parents, of course, do act in this manner because they love their children and want to give them what they need, provided it is in their best interest; but now, it is suggested, this is not enough. It is being suggested instead that others, outside the family, should supersede the right of parents to rear their children as they think fit, and that they, and not parents, should decide when a child is 'competent'.

The platitudinous nature of the wording of the Convention identifies it as belonging to a familiar sub-language beloved of government employees, and the know-all tone is its hallmark. It would be laughable, if it were not so serious, that a group of bureaucrats/politicians should set themselves up to preach to the majority of their fellow-citizens about something so basic as how to rear their children. However, notwithstanding their almost ludicrous effrontery in this matter, the implications for family life are serious.

The assumption that there is a right way of bringing up all children and that the experts at the Children's Rights Office, alone, know what it is, should warn us that we are in the company of zealots with 'alternative', if undeclared, ideas about what constitutes the correct way for parents to behave with their children.

There is a further, disturbing, aspect of the campaign for the hoped-for legislation on children's rights which is revealed in the language of the proponents. It seeks to pit the interests of the child against those of parents on the principle of 'divide and rule'. Parents are assumed to be hostile to the interests of their children until proved otherwise. Social workers, on the other hand, labour under no such demeaning assumption.

To most reasonable, people, it would appear bizarre to assume that normal, responsible parents, who bear, raise and love their children, are less to be trusted than those who merely earn a living from them - but this is, indeed, the stance of the children's rights movement. They assume that there is something in the very nature of parenthood which is inimical to the interests of children; which holds them back and over-protects them, to their detriment.

Though they have to admit that children are vulnerable by virtue of being children, they nevertheless believe that this vulnerability is caused in the first place by parental attitudes. Here is Gerison Lansdown, Chair of the Children's Rights Development Unit, writing in the handbook Children's Participation in Decision Making in 1995:

Much of children's vulnerability derives from historical attitudes and presumptions about the nature of childhood and is a social and political construct and not an inherent or inevitable consequence of childhood itself ... it is as much the structures within which children have to live which serve to render them vulnerable.3

The handbook goes on to say that 'the predominance of a
protective model in the construction of our relationships with children' has inhibited them from developing their full capacity. This highly questionable assertion is then used as the basis for establishing 'children's rights' - which children can use to defend their own vulnerability!

We must be clear about this since it is the nub of their argument and the driving force behind all their ideas. They believe that the accumulated experience of generations of parents is faulty and has, indeed, always been so. The
proposal is to substitute an experiment where parents are marginalised as the principal protectors and educators of their children and professionals from outside the family are brought in to do the job. Obviously, the fact that these professionals will be unencumbered by a desire to protect the children from what the parents would consider harmful, is part of the appeal of the proposals.

Being largely untried and ideological, there is no track-record to go on when considering the likely outcome of such a massive social experiment; nor, of course, is there public acquiescence. We have only the inadequate credentials of the people who are advancing these ideas to validate them - which is no doubt why they are at such pains to create an impression of impregnable scientific respectability as well as of wide- spread professional and public support. The media which, by and large, knows little of the subject has given uncritical support to what seem to be indisputably 'nice' ideas and have thus helped to perpetuate an illusion that the movement for 'children's rights' is both intellectually well-grounded and widely supported. As we shall see, this is not the case.

Chapter 2:  Weaving the Web

It is obvious to anyone that the whole area of children's rights opens up vast new career opportunities for those involved, with the added attraction of the power it would bestow to interfere in the lives of others.  It is unlikely to be coincidental that the keenest advocates of the new rights lobby are officials who are already active in childcare services. The power-base of the movement is almost entirely bureaucratic and institutional: individual support, in either time or donations, is conspicuous by its absence. This is a movement which pits the power of institutions against families, and aims to weaken the right of the family to conduct its own affairs without interference from outside bodies.

The condescending, and indeed, insulting attitude to parents, has echoes in everything produced by the children's rights movement. In introducing the Children Act 1989, which embodies so many of their aims and attitudes, the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay - perhaps unwittingly - caught the tone exactly:

The days when a child should be regarded as a possession of his parent . . . are now buried forever. The overwhelming purpose of parenthood is the responsibility of caring for, and raising the child to be a properly developed adult, both physically and morally.4

One has to ask Lord Mackay where he got the idea that this patronising comment would be a new insight to most parents. What is in the least bit new about his sentiments except for the stark fact that the power to define that responsibility, and to decide what constitutes the proper development of a child into an adult, is taken away from parents and given to social workers and others?

Here is Gerison Lansdown again: 'the family is no longer considered without question a secure, safe and stable environment for all children'.5   She continues by citing the current problems facing the family, which she does not identify as having been caused largely by the breakdown of the traditional family and its replacement with looser, alternative lifestyles.  Instead, she sees the breakdown of the family as inevitable or already accomplished, and uses this as the justification for the complete destruction of this archaic institution:

A model of parents as holders of all rights and responsibilities in respect of children is no longer accepted as either possible or desirable.6

One might ask by whom it is no longer accepted, except that one knows the answer: children's rights activists.


The author of the Labour Gay Rights Manifesto, Mike McNair, writing with Jamie Gough, demonstrates the link between feminist hatred of the family, children's rights, homosexuality and socialism in a book entitled Gay Liberation in the Eighties:

Children grow up under the power of their parents. As children, any behaviour which is obviously sexual in adult terms is repressed ... A socialist society would supersede the family household ... gay people and children should have the right to live together . . . Children and young people should have the right to determine their own sexual lives . . . marriage should be disestablished . . . Women need access to free contraception and abortion facilities; this applies just as much to young women as to 'adults'. Children should be able to divorce their parents . . . It follows from what we have already said that we favour the abolition of the age of consent.27

It is a disturbing fact that many of these aims have found their way into public policy in the last few years, mostly in a covert way and often in the name of children's rights. Children divorcing their parents, for example, and children's access to state-provided contraception, the right to put themselves into care and out of the protection of their parents. This has been facilitated by the wording of the Children Act 1989 in particular, with its requirement that children are allowed more say in how they are brought up.

This sounds reasonable until one discovers the interpretation that it is possible to put on it; for instance, that a 13 year-old girl can go and live with a 42 year-old married man and her parents can do nothing about it. The Mail on Sunday has had a number of articles which featured the plight of parents who had faced similar problems either caused or exacerbated by the divisive provisions of this Act. The paper quoted the relevant words of the Children Act:

A local authority may provide accommodation for any child within their area (even though a person who has parental  responsibility for him is able to provide him with accommodation) if they consider that to do so would safeguard or promote the child's welfare.

It went on to say,

If you are a parent, read the 43 words above very carefully   -  they could ruin your life.  They come from clause 20.4 of the Children Act, a piece of legislation with chilling implications for every family in Britain The way they are being interpreted means your child can run away from home, aided and abetted by the State and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

Rebellious children under the age of sixteen are exploiting clause 20.4.  They fall out with their parents, declare themselves homeless and force local social services departments to take them in.  They face little or no discipline in council care.  Bound by the same Act to 'ascertain the child's wishes above everything else' , social workers have become an escape route for disenchanted, rebellious children intent on getting their own way.28


Chapter 7:  Selective Indignation

If it were not for the bias in favour of homosexual rights, children's rights activists might have been at the forefront of the on-going investigations which have unmasked the grievous exploitation suffered by children in care. In the event, they were never there, just as they have shown themselves to be conspicuously uninterested in many other areas of real concern for families.

The list of what could be done to improve the lot of disadvantaged children is very long and it is instructive to notice just how few genuine efforts are made by children's rights activists to address them. The prevailing ugliness and desolation of so many urban settlements are an obvious target for anyone claiming to have the interests of children at heart and the publicity and pressure that institutionally-funded organisations like the Children Rights Office could bring to bear in small, quite specific areas is immense, had they  chosen to do so.

There are, for example, many problems experienced by children who are deprived because their mothers are obliged to work long hours away from them.  They could have campaigned for fiscal changes which allowed mothers a choice as to whether they worked or looked after their children. That such changes are now under consideration owes nothing to the efforts of the children's rights activists.

They could have campaigned for the demolition or re-construction of large housing estates; and they could have taken an authoritative lead in showing parents how to work together  to contain estate delinquency and drug-pushers.


2.  Building Small Democracies, Children's Rights Office, funded by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, June 1995, p.12.

3.  Gerrison Lansdwn, Taking Part: Children's participation in decision making, Institute for Public Policy Research, June 1995, pp.34-35.

4.  Lord Mackay. Introducing the Children Bill for its second reading( House of Lords Debate, 6 December 1988, col.490) and quoted in Children's Legal Centre briefing on the Children's Act.

6.  Gerrison Lansdown, Taking Part: Children's participation in decision making, Institute for Public Policy Research, June 1995, p.8

27. Mike McNair & Jamie Gough, Gay Liberation in the Eighties, Pluto Press Lte, London, 1985

28.  The Mail on Sunday, 24.11.96.

End of extracts from "The Fight for the Family"  by Lynette Burrows

25 January 2001

Reproduced with permission from the publishers:

Family Education Trust,
The Mezzanine, Elizabeth House, 39, York Road, London, SE1 7NQ.
Ph (00 44) 20 7401 5480, Fax (00 44) 20 7401 5471
e-mail: fameduc@aol.com  Web-site: www.famyouth.org.uk
£5 stg

               Available also from: Veritas, 7, Lr Abbey St Dublin 1,
               Ph (01) 878 8177. Price IR£6.75.

Clifford Longley:
"Frightened by our Children"
The Tablet, 9 Dec 2000

Extract: "At the same time parenting was turned, so to speak, into something done by permission of the authorities, as if mothers and fathers henceforth would have to have licences to do what they do.  And a licence can be taken away.  Every parent now knows that, at any moment, they can be overriddden by a social worker."

Further commentary on article u/c

8 January 01